Dalglish told ProSoccerTalk before the game that he wanted this one bad, and his men went out and worked hosts FC Motown to the tune of 3-1.
“When I won the PDL, we hosted the final,” Dalglish said. “The two MLS Cups were in neutral venues, so this is the first time I’m going to the lion’s den. … You’ve gotta run and fight and scrap til your lungs burn to enjoy it.”
Dylan Mares was named Man of the Match, scoring Miami’s second goal with a terrific free kick. Also scoring were Jeff Michaud and Jonny Steele, who bagged this beauty.
There will be a first-time champion in the Premier Development League this season when Calgary Foothills FC tangles with Reading United on Saturday night at 7 p.m. inside of Gurski Stadium in West Lawn, Pennsylvania.
Calgary is looking to clinch just the fourth PDL title for a Canadian team, with manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. carrying the torch for Calgary soccer. The England-born Wheeldon Jr. played for the Calgary Storm in the PDL from 2002-04, and will be the manager of Cavalry FC when the Canadian Premier League begins its run next season.
“We were finalists in 2016, and it was a good one because it was unexpected,” Wheeldon Jr. told ProSoccerTalk. “This year we improved our squad. We try to create a culture of excellence at Calgary Foothills. We’ve always been forward thinking and want to push our boundaries. It’s a 74-team league and watching videos of other conference, there’s a lot of quality out there.”
To win the playoff title, Calgary will have to travel nearly 2,300 miles.
It will meet one of the most successful clubs in league history when it comes to producing professionals. Reading United boast C.J. Sapong and Matt Hedges amongst its alumni, and have four of the Top 40 rated pro prospects in the 74-team league.
Head coach Alan McCann, 28, has had a wildly successful first year in leading Reading to its first final. He’s had help.
“It’s a group of returners that we’ve had for two years who have come back in and taken on responsibility and leadership,” McCann said. “They’ve helped us bring the new players in and buy into the mentality. It’s a ‘Never say die’ team. In our regular season finale, we were 2-0 down around the 80th minute and we got the winner in the 90th minute. It was big for us.”
How they got here
Reading United — Beat Myrtle Beach Mutiny in Eastern Conference semis, then New York Red Bulls U-23 in the conference finals. Won national semifinal against The Villages SC.
Calgary Foothills — Defeated Colorado Rapids U-23 in the Western Conference semis, then FC Tucson. Topped Chicago FC United in national semifinal.
Who To Watch
Reading United — Aaron Molloy (Penn State) has four assists in the playoffs and is the No. 1 ranked professional prospect in the PDL as determined by their rankings. Khori Bennett (Northeastern) has six goals in the postseason.
Calgary Foothills — Ali Musse has three goals on 12 shots in three playoff games, and goalkeeper Marco Carducci is yet to allow a goal in the postseason.
Two PDL teams, an NPSL side, and a league qualifier picked up wins over USL competition, with FC Wichita, Mississippi Brilla, Ocean City Nor’easters, and NTX Rayados recording wins.
Tulsa Roughnecks 3-4 FC Wichita
The USL hosts led 1-0 and 2-1 through Jhon Pirez and Riggs Lennon, but the pesky NPSL visitors refused to go away. Franck Yayou scored two goals and outscored its pro opponents 2-1 down the stretch in one of the night’s “Cupsets.”
There was controversy before the game when FCC decided to play in a much smaller venue and limit away tickets to a few dozen, and Detroit used it as a rallying cry to the tune of an early lead through a counterattack befitting almost any league on Earth. Cincy answered big time, but needed extra time to put away the NPSL side.
Another scare from an NPSL side saw well-traveled MLS man Dilly Duka put the hosts ahead in the 53rd minute, but the visitors scored thrice in the final 11 minutes to move onto the third round.
Jacksonville Armada 1-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies
An old NASL rivalry saw Jimmy Banks’ 58th minute goal carry the Armada into the third round.
Elsewhere North Carolina FC 3-0 Lansdowne Bhoys FC
Charlotte Independence 1-3 Ocean City Nor’easters
Erie Commodores 1-2 Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Reading United 1-1 (3-4, pks) Richmond Kickers
Seacoast United Phantoms 0-2 Elm City Express Charleston Battery 1-0 South Georgia Tormenta FC Louisville City FC 5-0 Long Island Rough Riders
Miami FC2 1-3 Miami United Mississippi Brilla 1-0 Indy Eleven
Midland-Odessa Sockers 0-4 San Antonio FC
Nashville SC 2-0 Inter Nashville FC
Colorado Springs Switchbacks 3-2 FC Denver NTX Rayados 5-2 (aet) Oklahoma City Energy
Duluth FC – Saint Louis FC
Sporting Arizona – Phoenix Rising
Fresno FC – Orange County FC
Las Vegas Lights – FC Tucson
Reno 1868 – Portland Timbers U23
Sacramento Republic – San Francisco City FC
American soccer tends to lean on its success stories, and understandably so. Portland, Seattle, and Kansas City are among myriad wonderful tales for a nascent culture.
But support is so much more than one set of fans, or players, or an owner. Look no further than Rochester, where an annual playoff team in a soccer specific stadium has suffered under the weight of unsatisfied MLS expectations.
Or Austin, which failed to support a USL team but is emboldened at the idea of getting another city’s MLS team.
Or Dayton. Or Wilmington. San Antonio Scorpions. Atlanta Silverbacks.
(We’re going to conveniently leave out the teams dropped into a city by a league in order to battle for a market because this is America and we just need Borussia Butte competing for market share with Montana Monterrey United).
Each of these “failures” has a story, and we’re not naive enough to pretend each falls on one reason. Some American cities, accustomed to having the best example of any particular spot in their region via the NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL, simply won’t support a league which wouldn’t rate in the Top 20 — or way worse — on a global scale.
It would take a much longer post than this to figure it all out, and much brighter minds than mine. In fact, one of our biggest flaws as a soccer community is pretending to unveil a universal fix inside of one big lightbulb.
If we had to proffer some easy fixes, they would be this
— Support your local club. I don’t simply mean by buying tickets, though that certainly helps, but by allying with the cause of improving support in your area. It might seem odd to be a group of four friends starting a supporters’ group for your third- or fourth-tier club, but the team will love it and your enthusiasm just might make someone else come back for seconds. Believe us, we’ve heard the arguments about quality of play, etc., but at some point desire for the development of our culture starts at home. Look at Chattanooga (right), Detroit City (at top), and even Sacramento for this. Look at Columbus while it’s being tortured, too, and look it in the eye. Maybe MLS wouldn’t have given Columbus a market had the league started up today, but it did 20 years ago and we’re fairly sure the business isn’t hemorrhaging money and the fans haven’t quit on the idea of the Crew.
Detroit is really an incredible example, and it’s pertinent as MLS entertains expanding to the city with an organization which isn’t Detroit City FC. Full disclosure: I’ve run a club which has staged a derby with DCFC, and I’ve watched the Motor City outfit go from “Detroit should have a soccer team” to “I bet we could fund restoring a neighborhood stadium and sell it out” to defying critics about what’s possible for a fourth-tier (for now) club. And without as much first hand knowledge from this writer, Chattanooga’s growth predates DCFC’s story with some striking similarities. If either club’s ownership was unable to move forward, I have no doubt their fan bases would rally to keep the clubs alive.
— Support your local soccer-first organization, too. If there’s a group running a program in low-income areas or aiming to elevate the quality of youth soccer without demanding $4000 per player and the pipe dream of maybe being seen by FC Porto’s North American marketing director (then maybe look into whether they do good work with donations, or if the donations make sure the “technical director” has a nicer house).
So to the questions, which show an appetite for the game at all levels and a desire to move toward an open model. And again, this demands you support your local club, because the idea that Major League Soccer is going to ask its owners to risk their investment dipping into a lower tier is improbable. We’re not saying we wouldn’t love it. And we’re not saying we won’t keep asking for it. But change in American hierarchy, especially when it comes to big money, takes a lot of work and lobbying.
Yes, I realize I’ve glossed over the pro/rel part in one paragraph, but let’s be very, very real here: You entered this discussion with a very pointed opinion on promotion and relegation in America. The results of the survey say most of us want to see it, but I couldn’t convince supporters it’s a bad idea or detractors that it’s necessary. I will say this: It’d be great if leagues found a way to make it work despite the massive travel costs that would multiply a successful team’s path upward. With loads of respect for the idea and how successful the open pyramid is in other countries, few if any have to deal with the gigantic landscape of the US of A (let alone several Canadian teams as well).
With the pros leading 2-0, Bucks winger Francis Atuahene belted a high volley over the backs and into the goal to give Michigan hope at the break.
Atuahene has 18 goals and seven assists in two years at the University of Michigan, but his production has been overshadowed by the Wolverines’ relative struggles. Still, the Ghana-born rising junior should have another fantastic year at Ann Arbor.